How Working Through This Potent Technique Will Lead To Independence In Your Child’s Life
I watched this young mother work with her child.Every time the child moved her hand to point to an incorrect picture, the mother stopped her in her tracks.“No, try again.” I could see and feel the anxiety mounting in the little girl.
She started to flap her hands. Again I heard the mother saying, “hands good.”
“Can you touch the red colour?” She pointed to the red flash card as she said this.
By this time, my anxiety had mounted. I sensed the child anxiety. I also sensed the parent’s anxiety and the need to get a correct response from her child.
This could have been me working with a little Mohit 20 years ago. The entire scenario flashed before my eyes. Hours of work, data sheets, discrete trials, prompting and trying to fade.
In those days I wanted to prove that my child got it, that he understood. And I carried that heavy burden of stress without even knowing it.
I wish somebody had told me that I didn’t have to track the number of items my child could name or ask for. Nobody told me I could take a break from 4 hours of back breaking discrete trials (both for Mohit and me). I wish somebody had told me that every child learned differently- it wasn’t about being able to answer questions, point to flash cards, say the right words. If somebody had told me it was alright for my child to make mistakes and I didn’t have to drill in concepts to get 80% scores, life would have been different.
My wish list could continue. But this is about you. I’m here to tell you that you can choose differently for your child.
Eventually, I learned how to get my child to think and problem solve to lead a meaningful and more independent life. I learned how to transfer my thinking process to my son, who was a teenager by then.
“In the process of scaffolding, the teacher helps the student master a task or concept that the student is initially unable to grasp independently.”
Wood, Bruner and Ross, 1976
Image credit: Dr Steven Gutstein (RDI Connect)
I can almost hear you say, “Wait, doesn’t scaffolding sound like prompting?”
No, there is a day and night difference in implementation and intent.
You prompt a child to complete a task. You have a specific outcome in mind.
When you scaffold your intention is to have your child think through a situation. The way each person does this could vary.
This image clearly elucidates the difference between prompting and scaffolding.
If we’re looking for independence in our children and adults, we need to support their thought process.
Here are some scaffolding steps you could apply with your child.
1. Partner with your child
Get involved by participating with your child, rather than being an instructor.
If you both are cooking something together, your child could be the one who sources the ingredients and brings them to you and you could add and mix.
It’s wonderful to co experience the activity with your child. This way you’ll understand exactly where your child struggles and how to support your child through the situation. If you’re out of salt, you could support by saying, “Hmmm.. I know we had a packet somewhere.”
If the need arises, you could increase the levels of scaffold so that your child feels competent and successful.
2. Model your thought process
In certain situations, you could model the thinking process for your child. This is apparent in the following video.
The child was not able to think through a situation at that point of time, and I modelled the thought process for him.
Take a look at it.
3. Facilitate the process
Some situations warrant your presence but not your participation. Your child has the main role and you have a supportive role. Your role is to provide just that extra support your child might need.
This wonderful video shows the mother as a facilitator. Watch how amazingly she takes a back seat and facilitates the child’s independence.
The most common wish of parents of children is ‘independence and happiness’ We need to start building that through the process of scaffolding. We add prompts to support a child’s learning, assuming we’ll be able to fade prompts. But I haven’t seen that happen easily.
Teach your child to think and solve problems. In that way you’ll be teaching him/her to handle situations that arise in life. Then you won’t have to prompt to teach skills required for each task individually.
Focus on the thinking through experiences, your child will be motivated to improve his/her own skill level.
Kamini Lakhani is the founder and director of SAI Connections. She has been providing services in the field of autism for more than 25 years and is the authorized director of Professional Training for RDI in India and the Middle East. She is also the mother of a young adult with autism.